Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welcome Aboard!

We celebrated our son's baptism on Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family (Picking that date without knowing this feast fell on it brought a broad smile to our faces. I think our guardian angels we're behind it). Now baptism is an amazing thing. Let's check out what the Triple C (Catechism of the Catholic Church) has to say about it: "This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature." (CCC, 1214) "This bath is called enlightenment, because those who receive this instruction are enlightened in their understanding . . . ." Having received in Baptism the Word, "the true light that enlightens every man," the person baptized has been "enlightened," he becomes a "son of light," indeed, he becomes "light" himself... Wow, that's grand. "Becomes light himself"... What a goal to reach for, to become all light, to be clear in mind and heart. I'm all over this. Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift. . . .We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship. (CCC, 1216) Very cool. "Sin is buried in the water." We die to live. We die to the old ways, the grasping, the fear, the doubt that has seeped into our very bloodstream because of the fall of our first biological parents right up to our present day parents. The desire to sin will still be there, but the power of it over us is GONE. Death, where is your sting? And the life of God that sin swept out of us comes rushing back in like a warm summer breeze.... an eternal summer breeze, so long as we keep those windows open to receive it. I grew up going to Church hearing about this sacrament all the time. We have our sprinkling rites for the Big People, "to serve as a reminder of our Baptism," as the priest says. (I think he secretly enjoys spraying us in the face with the Holy Sprinkler Thingee, by the way. I know I would). But on Sunday, we got a much stronger reminder of what this all means as we watched our son "get religion." It means he is no longer his own, nor is he "ours." We are stewards merely; he belongs to God. This could be scary depending on your knowledge of Who God Is. But I believe our little one is now in the best place he can be, and the safest place - the State of Grace. The arms of the Father. Some people have issues with infant baptism. "Here you go, placing your child into a faith that they are incapable of freely choosing. You should wait until they can make their own decisions." Well, I think of it this way; if a person has poison in them, shouldn't you give them the antidote as quickly as you can? Is there really a need for dialogue on this? Another thought: Your little boat has struck a rock and you are sinking. You are lost at sea. A Bright Ship has set sail over the waters of time, and God Himself is at the helm. He casts out a set of life preservers (the Sacraments) to draw you into safety, into warmth, and into a community of others who were shipwrecked once too. He wants us all to be safe now on the Bright Ship. I'm on the Ship now. Why should I wait to cast out that first line, Baptism, to rescue him? Why wait until he can "dialogue" about it, or discern if this life preserver is the one for him? There are no others! In this dangerous sea of sin, all that floats about are fakes and failed attempts to save. When the flood came in Noah's day, it was the Ark or the bottom of the sea. We chose baptism for our son. It was an easy decision. As he grows up and finds himself, walking about on the sunny deck of this Bright Ship we call the Church, he will look out at the watery world, and we will be there with him. We will point to the thin line of the horizon and say to him "There is our destination. A Blessed Realm beyond the world's edge." He will feel the salty breeze upon his face and hear the gulls cry, and feel that pine for More within him. He will learn to read the signs, and study the great books and scan the maps. He will explore the many levels of his Ship from the galley to the Crow's Nest, and he will decide whether he will stay on this Bark of Peter's or remain behind on one of our many island excursions. As for us, his parents and godparents, we pray that we will be there for him; guiding, inspiring, exploring, and learning our way right along with him. Welcome aboard son! And may God help you stay the course!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year in 40 Seconds

One year in 40 seconds from Eirik Solheim on Vimeo.
Time flies, when you piece 12 months together into a 40 second clip. Very nice transition with the sounds of nature and all. So long 2008! Hope 2009 slows down a bit!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dad's Woodwork

My dad has begun a new wood carving hobby, and is creating some beautiful work! Check out this teething ring, carved from maple wood, finished in orange oil and beeswax. Non-toxic, and made in Maine. And our son just took to his Christmas gift like... bees to honey! Here's the link

To Consume or Be Consumed, That is the Question!

What a bizarre time this is; the Christmas season.Never is there a period of such polar opposites as there are at this time of year. All around us we are bombarded with the imperative to consume, collect, gobble, and grasp. There are lines of impatient, honking, beeping, cranky souls snaking through the shops and malls all around us. Incredible pressure is laid on people to find this or that gift for this or that niece or nephew, cousin or coworker. It can bring out the absolute worst in people. I watched a woman in her 50s sitting in her car with her elderly mother curse out a car behind her for honking at her... one honk. And it was one of those friendly little honks too. Grandma just kinda slid deeper into her seat, clutching her purse.Then comes Sunday, and we roll off to Church and hear just the opposite. "It is better to give than to receive" - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." - "wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger." The radio plays as we whiz through the thousands of cars in the parking lot, like vultures looking for an open space... "Away in a manger, no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head."We drive home flustered, past little glowing, plastic nativity scenes of a man and a woman kneeling in the snow, gazing down at a little plastic Child. A whole plastic, glowing mob of souls gathers round the Babe; kings and shepherds, the rich and the poor (and occasionally a big plastic Snowman or the Grinch, which is a whole other story). What do we make of all this? What is this all about? Yesterday I was out shopping and trying to stay focused, trying to recall what we are moving towards in these next couple of days. Standing in a massive snake of a line at Borders, with Mr. Cranky Pants on his cell phone behind me, a youth in angst blurting "Merry (expletive) Christmas" to my left, as only a youth in angst can do, I prayed for a great awakening.I prayed it would all vanish and we could all find ourselves kneeling in that cold cave in that backwater town of Bethlehem. Unplugged, unknown, and alone.... looking down at a very poor couple who had to find a place to rest their newborn baby... and the only "space" they could find was a feeding trough for animals in a stable.Scandalous. That would make the news, wouldn't it? Wouldn't that stop us in our tracks? We're told to be good consumers, to boost this failing economy. But this consumption of things will no more help our country than it will satisfy our souls. Someone else has come with a better plan for our salvation. He lays in a manger (the word means "to eat") and he is born in Bethlehem, which means literally "house of bread."And he looks at us all, racing about stuffing our stockings and stuffing our trunks with things. And he says, "Take and eat, take and drink; this is my Body, given up for you." We are invited to consume, to eat and by eating become one with the Love that has become our Food.This is the Love that truly satisfies! This is the Feast of Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Good Stuff

Nothing profound today, just a little laugh from the Mac commercials that literally were the impetus for me to check out their product. I love Mac! From the desktop to the iPhone, the iPod to Apple TV. We're sold. I think I need to dedicate a post a week on "Why I Love Apple." Hmmm.... "Mac Mondays?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A New Angle on Moses

After covering our section on Moses and the parting of the Red Sea a few weeks ago, one of my students had a kind of "Far Side" moment and set to drawing out his vision. Click his masterpiece for a full scale picture. Props to you Ryan Fulmer!

Flashback - The Nativity Story: A Review

I know, another flashback episode.... sorry gang! ____________________ From a private screening of the New Line Cinema movie "The Nativity Story." The film chronicles that year in the life of Mary and Joseph that forever altered the course of human history. It's the Christmas story, told beautifully in rich, earthen tones. The journey takes us from a windy garden annunciation of Gabriel to the Holy Birth soaked in starlight, ending with the flight of Mary and Joseph with the Child into Egypt. First Impressions: For me, the real treasures of this film lie in its attention to detail; the humble village of Nazareth is recreated with such evident devotion that this alone makes the film a joy to watch. We are invited to enter into the daily life of Mary, Joseph and their kin. We move with their schedules, we perform their everyday rituals, and it slows us down. These scenes are so rich with authenticity! Mary's coarse cloak, handwoven and weathered, brushing past the wheat; Joseph at his wood-working table, layered with sawdust... each speaks to us of the Divine descent into our time, our work, and our sweat; they pull back the glitter and the lights and show us again the gritty reality of the Incarnation, and the time and place in which God ordained that He would come. The olive press and the crushing of grapes for wine, so deeply foreboding of what lies ahead for Jesus; the gleaning of the grain in the fields hints at a "gift of finest wheat" that will soon come to fill us. The tanning of animal hides, the stirring of goat's milk, the planting of seeds and the tilling of soil. All seemed drenched with light and pregnant with meaning. Another charm of this film is in the intimate interactions of Mary and Joseph. A favorite scene for me was of Mary washing the travel-worn feet of a sleeping Joseph by a rocky stream. Again, a foreshadowing of what their Son will do for His Apostles. So we see in the parents what will come to be in the Child. Oscar Isaac was so refreshing in his portrayal of Joseph, the humble blue collar saint. He gave him a weight, a maturity, and a chivalry that is so desparately needed today. Well acted with convincing emotion, Joseph too makes the movie a must see. There are well placed pieces of humor, of the most innocent kind. The music is stirring, with subtle hints at the classic Christmas hymns and melodies we all know so well. They are woven almost seemlessly into the score and we smiled when we caught them. The cave that served as the birthplace of the God made Flesh was an open invitation to prayer, and that was almost tangible as we sat in the theater. The Nativity Story has its limitations, as all our works of art do. The opening scenes were a little too Peter Jackson-esque. Joachim and Ann seemed a little cranky most of the time. And Mary was overly distant, almost stoic at times. But who could ever come close to conveying the emotion and the love of the Immaculate Virgin anyway? Overall, I found myself thanking God for the gift of this movie. The timing is just right, in more ways than one. ____________________________________ For videos of the making of the film click here!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flashback Episode: The ICLAs are Coming! The ICLAs are coming!

(Originally posted in December 2006.) Well friends, Christmas fever has once again gripped the nation, and it's hotter than a string of big bulbed Christmas lights from the 70's! I think you'll agree with me in noting that THIS Christmas is going to be bigger, bolder, and brassier than ever! Why? Because of INFLATABLE CHRISTMAS LAWN ART!! (The aforementioned oddities will hitherto be referred to as ICLA's) Now I don't know if the ICLA's have invaded neighborhoods west of the Mississippi yet, or even across the sea (any reports?) but let me tell YOU.... they are crawling all over the mid-eastern seaboard. Maybe they came from Sweden? IKEA? ICLA? Whatever the case may be, these massive Christmas mutants are taking over! Picture Godzilla with a wreath around his neck! Big, puffy pieces of plastic in yuletide shapes. We've got Santas, Frostys, Elves, and Reindeer.... even the Grinch gets a spot on the lawn! Sure, they seem kinda cute, but don't be fooled America! Remember the story of the Trojan Horse! Some of these Christmas creatures are bigger than the houses they are "decorating." I'm not kidding. I saw one peeking into the third story of a south Philly rowhome, and he looked HUNGRY. Thankfully ICLA's can easily be unplugged, or tackled by a 9 year old (which is hilarious to watch). But imagine if these things were intelligent! Think about it, America, for two seconds! Now this is just my conspiracy theory; it's one among thousands, granted. But I believe the ICLA's are actually filled with a mind-altering gas that has been created by none other than the BIGGIEMAN! (click for previous post on America's most fiendish foe!) That's right! Unbeknownst to the Jones', their "front yard Frosty" is really puffed up with a deadly toxin that seeps out into the neighborhood, hypnotizing us all into thinking that BIGGER is always better. What happens next? Open your eyes America! Do you remember these gargantuan Grinchs five years ago? Were there any super-sized Santas on your street even four years ago? And look at us now. I feel like a hobbit sometimes just walking to the deli. And some of these ICLA's, especially the reindeer, their eyes just seem to follow you! IT'S DOWNRIGHT CREEPY! Here's My Battle Plan... Let's form a resistance movement! We'll call ourselves the POPCIOWAMWOODs! (which of course stands for People Only Putting Candles In Our Windows And Maybe Wreaths On Our Doors). We'll show that BIGGIEMAN! Bigger is sometimes better, but smaller and simpler is best. After all, that's how He came into the world, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Babies by G.K. Chesterton

(from the essay "In Defence of Baby Worship" from THE DEFENDANT. 1903.) The two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are, first, that they are very serious, and secondly, that they are in consequence very happy. . . The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea. . . . If we could see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. . . We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found - [the one] on which we were born. But the influence of children goes further than its first trifling effort of remaking heaven and earth. It forces us actually to remodel our conduct in accordance with this revloutionary theory of the marvellousness of all things. We do actually treat talking in children as marvellous, walking in children as marvellous, common intelligence in children as marvellous. . . [and] that attitude towards children is right. It is our attitude towards grown up people that is wrong. . .

Sunday, December 14, 2008


"Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of peace make you perfectly holy.... spirit, soul, and body..." - 1 Thessalonians 5:16... I believe joy should be the undercurrent in the soul of every Christian. That's what this third Sunday of Advent is about, and so it's traditionally called "Rejoice" Sunday (Gaudete). After all, compared to the horrific death of Jesus on Calvary, to the crucifixion of Love Himself at the hands of His creatures, is there any sorrow that cannot be undone? So our crosses all combine and meet and meld into One at Calvary, and this is communion. And then they are buried in the earth, break open in the darkness and then push, pine, and blossom forth in the Spring into something holy beyond our wildest dreams. And this is redemption! The joy it births is evangelization.... "Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls." - Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Again, everything that happened to Jesus must happen to us. And didn't He say that He came to give us joy, and joy in abundance? So rejoice always. Mind the words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. He was a realist, not an idealist, and he himself knew sorrow, and beatings, abandonment, imprisonment, rejection, and hunger. And in them he rejoiced for what was to come. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him! Rejoice! In the words of the French sculptor Rodin "The victory of Truth is certain."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Who's Your Daddy?

Our son loves to laugh and smile, but just when we think it's our funny faces or noises that are the cause of it, we're given cause to think again. He's like the ent named Quickbeam from The Lord of the Rings; it's simple things that stir up joy in him; the pattern on a couch cushion, a light fixture, a sneeze, a toot (of course, those are funny even if you're 90). These are the things that make him laugh and smile. The reality is, he has no clue who we are.... at least not yet. Unknown hands pick him up to carry him. Food comes right to his tiny mouth just when he needs it. He can barely see things that are just a few feet away from him. He's wrapped, rocked, cleaned, comforted, and cuddled by a love unknown to him. I was thinking the other day as I was feeding the wee lad, it's the same thing with us and God. So often, we have no clue just how close this Heavenly Father is to us.... just when and where He is comforting, cuddling, cleaning and caring for us. Even when, in our tears and cries, He seems absent, He's just a few feet away, and only our undeveloped vision keeps us from seeing Him. This fatherhood thing is doing wonders for the prayer life. I can see in our love and care for this beautiful baby boy and for his unborn sister Grace, a tiny glimmer of the love of God for us. I wonder if that too was part of His plan?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue

Lovely Lady dressed in blue Teach me how to pray! God was just your little boy, Tell me what to say! Did you lift Him up, sometimes, Gently on your knee? Did you sing to Him the way Mother does to me? Did you hold His hand at night? Did you ever try telling stories of the world? O! And did He cry? Do you really think He cares If I tell Him things little things that happen? And do the Angels' wings make a noise? And can He hear me if I speak low? Does He understand me now? Tell me, for you know. Lovely Lady dressed in blue Teach me how to pray! God was just your little boy, And you know the way. - Mary Dixon Thayer This prayer-poem was made famous in the 1950s by Bishop Fulton Sheen. Let's sing it from the heart today on this great feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wait Watchers

Waiting. Some of us just can't stand it. We can't wait in a line, on a phone, or for a table without getting our cranky pants on. You've seen it yourself, I'm sure. "I need it now and you're not facilitating my needs fast enough!" Black Friday was as black as ever this past week when an angry mob's impatience led to the death of a Walmart employee. Death... in a department store. Hordes of people trampled over a man and killed him in a reckless pursuit of things. May God forgive us, and bring peace to his soul and his family! This waiting, however, is absolutely critical to the Christian way of life. Advent begins our whole Liturgical Year as Catholics with a call to patient waiting. It's a period of watchfulness for Christians across the planet. This holy expectancy is at the very heart of a believer. It's name is Hope, and if Hope is not filling the cavern of the soul, then a person tries filling it, in vain, with something else. But no thing can fill us like Hope. It is not a waiting is not in order to clutch and grasp at a thing the moment our turn is up, but to receive the gift of a Person, like a sunrise fills the eyes of a sentinel at the start of the new day. So what will be our posture, our attitude, our position this Advent? Will it be restless with activity (probably at some point), or will rest dominate these weeks? Will we be a churning sea of whitecaps and swells of impatience, or a quiet pool that reflects the sky? In the quiet things are seen more clearly. I know I can be restless, not just in this time but in all my daily work. Thank God for our newborn baby boy, who by his very existence has caused me to put the brakes on more often. He gives me cause to waste time, to simply be with him for an hour, or two, or three; just gazing at each other, smiling, sleeping, nestling in my arms. What a meditation he has afforded us this Advent! We must all become as the little children, utterly dependent on the Father in Whose arms we are invited to rest and receive. And just to hammer it home, I'm building another devotion into my Advent schedule: the Friday Fast. It will become my Desert Day. I will be "unplugging" myself each Friday of this season - no blogging, internet, iPhone, radio, iPod, TV.... nuthin'. I'll only use technology for teaching and of course, the cell is on for emergencies at home. Anybody game for this? I could use a little team support! May this holy time be a fruitful time for us all! He is coming, may He find us watchful and waiting, preparing our hearts, sweeping then clean, warm, open and ready for His Abundant Love to come down and to be born in the Bethlehem of our hearts.

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...